Tips for surviving your first PA job out of school

Asking for help, being kind to everyone, and keeping the patient informed are just three lessons learned after a first year as a PA.

Tips for surviving your first PA job out of school
Tips for surviving your first PA job out of school

I would like to dedicate this post to any recent graduate who is about to embark on their very first job out of school. As I approach my one year work anniversary, I have been given the opportunity to look back on the past 12 months.

Every experience has taught me a lesson, and I'm going to share the most important ones with you. Although these lessons have been pulled from my experience in the emergency room, I think they pertain to all areas of practice.

Accept the fact that you are still inexperienced

When you are a student, everyone assumes you have no clue what you are doing. When you put that long white coat on, people suddenly believe you know everything. Unfortunately this is not true, and you need to remember this. Although it is important to develop a sense of independence, it is even more important to get help when you need it.

If you're afraid to ask your attending for help because it shows you're inexperienced, guess what? You are still inexperienced, and the only way to gain experience is through learning. The attending is ultimately responsible for the patient, and they have to sign their name to the chart, too. So ask for help when you need it. The attending wants to help you.

If you are afraid to bother your attending, because they are currently dealing with a trauma, and you want them to look at a rash remember that if it's not life threatening, it is okay to wait a little bit for a second opinion.

If you're still waiting, ask yourself, "Is there another attending that can look at it?" Patients are often willing to wait, if you explain to them that you want to get a second opinion to make sure they have the best treatment possible. They will wait even longer if they have a remote control in their hands.  

You are not above anyone

Just because you now have a bunch of letters after your name, this does not mean that you can treat people poorly. This goes for both patients as well as hospital staff.

If you walk past a patient who needs an ice pack, but you do not want to get it for them, because it is not in your job description, remember that it all comes down to patient care. It is not about what is or isn't in your job description. It is about making the patient more comfortable. 

Treating other hospital staff with respect is very rewarding. Saying hello to the supply department whenever they are in the ED has landed me a never ending personal supply of hand sanitizer. Offering the housekeepers gum has left me with the cleanest trashcans I have ever seen. As I'm sure you saw during school, nurses can make or break your career. Be nice. Always.

Keep the patient in the loop

Being in the ED can be a very scary time for patients, and it is human nature to be uncomfortable in situations where one does not know what is going on. It is important to take the time to explain what is going to happen to the patient, why you are running the tests that you are running, and what the results mean. 

One of the biggest factors I've noticed in improving patient satisfaction is that patients are much more willing to wait if you explain things to them.

When I started popping my head into patient rooms to explain what's going on, (“just waiting for your labs to come back” or “waiting for you to go to x-ray”), I notice an unbelievable change in patient behavior for the better. Patients are calmer and willing to wait even longer if they know what they were waiting for.

These are just three of the lessons I learned this year, but I found them extremely helpful. I hope you do, too! Good luck!

Jillian Knowles, MMS, PA-C, is an emergency medicine physician assistant in the Philadelphia area. 

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